Although pop and metal may seem like polar opposites, they honestly have a lot in common.
Namely, tons of metal fans and artists enjoy softer styles (and vice versa); thus, even the most unconventionally brutal tastes could go hand in hand with lighter mainstream fare. In the end, a good track is a good track no matter its genre.
Moreover, a drastically different vision for a song can shed new light on why it stands out, so listeners grow a newfound appreciation for something they previously dismissed.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the best metal covers of hit pop songs. Like all great adaptations, they put singular yet faithful spins on the songs they’re reimagining, and we can’t get enough of them.
Loudwire contributor Jordan Blum is a university English professor and author of 'Opeth: Every Song Every Album', 'Dream Theater: Every Album Every Song' and 'Jethro Tull: Every Song Every Album.'
Next Step, "I Kissed a Girl" (Katy Perry)
Understandably, Katy Perry kind of regrets releasing this lead single from 2008’s One of the Boys. Regardless of what she or others think of the original version, however, there’s no denying that Next Step’s 2018 interpretation is commendably imaginative and enticing.
Kicking off with percussion that evokes both Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and AC/DC’s “T.N.T.,” the Spanish quartet mix grungy and guttural singing with alternative metal heaviness and nuance. Consequently, Perry’s bubblegum vibrancy and accessibility are swapped for cold intensity and intricacy, resulting in a strikingly darker vibe in general. It’s simultaneously recognizable and distinctive, thereby succeeding on all fronts.
HIM, “Wicked Game” (Chris Isaak)
Written about “what happens when you have a strong attraction to people that aren’t necessarily good for you,” Chris Isaak’s 1989 tune is a staple of contemporary soft pop-rock.
Thus, HIM deserve applause for resourcefully assimilating it into their trademark gothic metal formula. Actually, the Finnish ensemble did it several times, with the latest cut appearing on 2000’s Razorblade Romance. (Videos for their prior attempts can be seen here and here.)
They all follow the same fundamental template, with the newest one being a sleeker and more multifaceted synthesis of Isaak’s core rockabilly woe and HIM’s sleek and sharp angst.
Type O Negative, “Summer Breeze” (Seals and Croft)
We still can’t hear this one without thinking of 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. That said, it comes from 1993’s Bloody Kisses and was going to be called “Summer Girl” before the New York doom metallers decided that their new lyrics were “distasteful.”
Of course, they do plenty to put their stamp on it anyway. Whereas Seals and Crofts’ 1972 edition is, well, fittingly airy and warm, Type O Negative’s is anything but. Rather, it’s uniquely grim and grimy thanks to Peter Steele’s unmistakable bellows alongside the rough and trudging instrumentation. Various peculiar effects add personality, too.
Rammstein, “Stripped” (Depeche Mode)
Released in 1998, Depeche Mode tribute LP For the Masses offered praiseworthy covers from numerous bands (such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Deftones). Yet, perhaps the best of the bunch was Rammstein’s approach to “Stripped.”
Expectedly, some industrial shades remain, but the German sextet removed virtually all ties to synth-pop (as well as the “down to the bone” part of the main hook due to Till Lindemann having trouble making it work). Even so, it’s surprisingly welcoming because its programmed textures, moody atmosphere and layered vocals create one of Rammstein’s most tuneful and reserved pieces. It’s a superb translation.
DevilDriver, “Sail” (AWOLNATION)
The gloomy electropop undercurrent of AWOLNATION’s “Sail” was begging to be enhanced by an immensely abrasive act. Enter Californian groove/melodic death metal fivesome DevilDriver, whose 2013 rendition is just what the doctor ordered.
It retains much of AWOLNATION’s feel and pacing, but with far more cinematic and technical bite (including fiery guitarwork and ethereal backing vocals). As frontman Dez Fafara rightly told Loudwire in 2014: “We cover songs once in a while based on the song personally affecting me. This tune did just that. . . . We made the song our own without compromising its original integrity one bit.”
Fear Factory ft. Gary Numan, “Cars” (Gary Numan)
“Cars” is a new wave/synth-pop classic and Gary Numan’s signature song, so it only made sense for the initially hesitant artist to join nu-metal outfit Fear Factory in revising it 20 years later (on 1999’s digipak variant of their third studio album, Obsolete).
Overall, it follows the same trajectory and lasts as long as Numan’s version, and Numan’s voice – which hadn’t changed very much – works well besides the deeper timbre of Burton C. Bell. Add in some crunchy guitar riffs and coarse percussion and you have a triumphant take that played a significant part in Fear Factory’s mainstream success.
Children of Bodom, “Oops!... I Did It Again” (Britney Spears)
The pure absurdity of what’s happening here is amusing; however, that doesn’t mean that the Finnish power metal troupe don’t warrant esteem for turning something so ostensibly incompatible into a characteristic composition.
Undoubtedly, they transform Spears’ saccharine dance-pop darling into a sinisterly satirical gem (as they also did for other tunes from 2009’s Skeletons in the Closet covers compilation). It starts with sounds of coughing and spitting, so it’s clear that the band is having fun, and despite its majorly filthy and vicious essence, Nylon Beat’s Jonna Kosonen ensures that it upholds some of Spears’ catchy and glittery charm, too.
Ice Nine Kills, "Someone Like You" (Adele)
In terms of sheer songwriting quality, Adele’s “Someone Like You” is the best entry here, and metalcore/post-hardcore quintet Ice Nine Kills definitely do it justice on 2013’s The Predator EP.
In contrast to Adele’s operatic piano ballad methodology, the group expertly apply the epic emotionalism and full-bodied arrangements of their main styles.
Specifically, their pained harmonies, complex rhythms, scorned screams and dreamy synth coatings result in a denser and arguably more dramatic creation. Sure, some of Adele’s elegance is lost along the way – and hers is the superior option – but Ice Nine Kills nonetheless do a fantastic job reimagining it.
System of a Down, “The Metro” (Berlin)
Like HIM and “Wicked Game,” eclectic metal quartet System of a Down recorded multiple modifications of Berlin’s 1982 new wave/synth-pop piece. The most recent one was featured on the soundtrack to 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie, and at only 3 minutes in length, it’s a full minute shorter than Berlin’s version.
With thick bass lines, steady beats, off-kilter guitar lines, poignant singing and abrupt stylistic shifts, it’s quintessential System of a Down. As such, it’s a stark departure from its predecessor musically and melodically, yet it’s exactly that willingness and ability to do such a bold reinvention that makes it remarkable.
Limp Bizkit, “Faith” (George Michael)
No one is going to argue that Fred Durst sings as well as George Michael (especially after hearing Durst’s isolated vocals), but overall, Limp Bizkit’s 1997 adaptation of “Faith” is too enjoyable not to mention.
They’d been playing it in concert for a while, and although Three Dollar Bill, Y’all producer Ross Robinson was originally opposed to recording it, he was convinced to do it because of Limp Bizkit’s inventive strategies. In typical fashion, its nu metal/rapcore veneer leads to plenty of playful corrosiveness – Durst even interjects, “Get the fuck up!” near the end – so it’s a lot of fun.